Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An Existential Loss of Hope

Much has already been written about the cultural, spiritual, and demographic decline of Europe. In the March issue of FIRST THINGS, Jean Bethke Elshtain gives voice to the concerns in a piece called While Europe Slept (sub req):

Democracies often have a difficult task in figuring out how to deal with internal threats, with those within the body politic who would destroy it if they could: Witness Weimar dealing, or not dealing, with Adolf Hitler. Perhaps Europeans today are altogether too complacent, too convinced that economic rights and expressivist self-sovereignty can carry us through. But no one can miss the signs of cultural slackness and exhaustion all around in today's Europe. Demographic collapse is one sign of an existential loss of hope and a turning of the self inward on the self, refusing to extend the self to a child and thus abandoning the task of civic formation on this most fundamental and private level.

Europe suffers from many self-inflicted wounds--the wounds of indifference, the wounds of self-absorption. Will Europe be able to deal with all the daunting challenges she faces, including destabilization, economic stagnation, a resurgence of anti-Semitism, and all the rest? Only if she remembers who she is, with something precious and valuable to offer, which means accepting her religious heritage and its normative constraints on what people are permitted to do and how they may do it. Only if Europe can sustain principles and commitments that are historically derived from presuppositions of divinely sanctioned human dignity. I speak here not of faith but of sustaining cultural memory, including that which resolutely rejected the view that we are all forced to choose between faith and reason, which would rule Europe's historical dialectic irrelevant.

Will Europe awake from this slumber in time to regain its cultural confidence, faith, and hope for the future? I'm afraid I'm not confident.

I'm also afraid about the prospects of the nihilism and relativism that is corroding Europe coming to our shores. One of the reasons that America is not yet facing the same bleak future as Europe is the secular acceptance of America's religious heritage and cultural memory. You don't have to believe in God to believe in America. But as our secular culture becomes more self-absorbed, more indifferent, more adverse to the ideal of divinely sanctioned human dignity (in other words more Europeanized), we may be well headed down the same path of civilizational decline.

No comments:

Post a Comment